Project aims to boost UK rail innovation

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Rail Technical Strategy 2012 - .PDF file.

A project due to launch in March aims to embed innovation in Britain’s rail industry and potentially reposition the nation at the forefront of rolling stock design.

The Radical Train project, part of the Future Railways Programme, will be managed by engineering consultancy Frazer-Nash on behalf of the Enabling Innovation Team (EIT), a body established by the rail industry to accelerate and entrench innovation in the sector.

The project will lead to a Radical Train Demonstrator and is calling for proposals from industry that will show how a significant step change in the performance of trains on UK railways can be made, and to develop train systems and sub-systems with export potential.

One of Frazer-Nash’s tasks will be look at the impact of the idea relative to the cost of developing the tech demonstrator.

Richard Jones, business manager for Rail at Frazer-Nash, stressed, however, that the project is not looking for solutions that are currently, or are close to being, market ready.

‘What we are looking for is technologies that will transform trains, something that is truly radical,’ explained Jones. ‘We’re talking about physical artefacts, or even computer models, that are inspirational and help people to understand and believe that the industry can step forward and use [for example] new materials, or new ways of deploying those materials that aren’t apparently possible in the industry at the moment.’

The UK currently has a 30 year Rail Technical Strategy, which sets out four high-level challenges for the industry: increase capacity, provide a better service to passengers, reduce the cost of subsidy via technological innovation, and reduce CO2 emissions.

Jones said the RTS forms a framework and a guide to the direction of travel for the industry but shouldn’t restrict the scope of proposals for the project.

‘Its by no means meant to be prescriptive in the kind of things we’re looking for,’ said Jones. ‘If it fits then that’s great, it’s positive. If it doesn’t then we still don’t want to put any limits on the thinking. Proposals outside those areas are very welcome.’

Ultimately, Jones said, the intent is to make the project highly relevant to British industry, adding that it is actively encouraging ideas from outside the rail industry.

‘Export potential is important as well,’ said Jones. There are a lot of industries in which Britain leads the world in design and innovation. We did once in rail and there’s no reason why we can’t again. This project is here to show what’s possible and to stimulate the whole industry.’

The call for proposals, to be made on March 13, is open to companies and individuals within a UK company (or company with a UK holding) provided they can fund up to 50 per cent of the total development cost.

Frazer-Nash will take a minimum of three short-listed entrants forward to the demonstrator stage and Jones added that EIT will not draw any IPR from any of the technology proposals.

‘EIT’s role is to be the catalyst that makes this change happen and to show people what it is possible to achieve,’ said Jones.